Email management seems to be a hot topic lately. David Bilinsky's Thoughtful Legal Management blog contained his suggestions for email management in a post earlier this month entitled simply Email Management. His post specifically addresses the issue of what to do to archive emails when a file has been closed.
Jim Calloways' Law Practice Tips blog also includes some great recent posts on email management. For example, consider liberally using unsubscribe to manage the flood of email. Even better, read Jim's post on Tips for Using Outlook Tasks to Clear Your Inbox. As Jim points out, Outlook 2007 does a much better job at this than earlier versions of Outlook do. Jim also notes that many of the emails we 'store' in our Inboxes are emails that act as reminders of tasks. Rather than letting them pile up (and get lost) in your email inbox, he recommends the drag and drop method to place the message into a task - setting a date only where necessary - and thereby clearing out the inbox clutter.
Don't feel like reading more about email management? For step by step tips for how to save emails to a client file, see this step by step email management screencast by Lawyerist, or listen to the podcast about email management from Adriana Linares and Debbie Foster on Legal Talk Network.
Here are some of my own email management tips:
Eliminate any unnecessary emails as soon as you possibly can. If it's junk or a coupon or advertisement you won't immediately act on, delete it (advertisements, specials and coupons will come around again). Don’t let junk mail sit around and clutter up your inbox.
If the email is something that requires action by somone else, forward it to that person right away. If the email is one you need to save for a file, move it into that file folder and get it out of the inbox. If it’s a task that needs to be done by you, follow Jim’s advice and move it to tasks (the body of the email will remain intact as part of the task). Create to do lists and/or action folders or file trays.
Get a planner, whether electronic or paper-based, and enter appointments and any necessary notes right away and delete the email. If you use Outlook email and your Outlook calendar, you can drag and drop an email directly into your calendar the same way that you can drag it to tasks. Just drop it on the appropriate date, and the details from the email will come with it.
Electronic ‘periodicals,’ RSS feeds, alerts, and newsletters can clutter up your inbox in no time. You’ve probably got all kinds of old newsletters, articles and other emails that you’d ‘like’ to read, but haven’t gotten around to looking at. Get them out of your inbox. Don't feel bad about eliminating them - the same content gets recycled over and over, and more recent articles will appear on the same topic in the future. If you haven’t read it and it’s over a week old, delete it or save it to a designated folder, like a ‘library’ folder on your computer. (You can use free or inexpensive desktop search programs like Google Desktop to search for documents and information in your library when you’re working on a specific project, issue, etc. Alternatively, skim the table of contents or the article/newsletter headings and if you see something that you think is important, save it according to a topic or skim ONLY that article right away.
Unless you frequently get urgent emails from clients (be honest about this - how many of your emails are truly urgent and require an immediate response?), don’t start your day by reviewing your email, and don’t look at email constantly throughout the day. If you’re waiting for a particular email, don’t get caught up in answering all of your email or reading less urgent email over and over during the day - skim for the urgent email or the one you're waiting for and move on. Review non-urgent emails at designated times during the day or when you need a break from more sophisticated or complicated work.
Make separate folders for different kinds of emails or emails that require specific types of responses. File emails that you need for ‘reference’ in the appropriate folder to get them out of your in-box.
Create folders and set up rules and filters for your email so that it is automatically routed to the correct folder. For those that belong to several email lists, forums, etc. this rule is especially useful. And if you're waiting for an email from a particular client, you'll easily see when a new email has arrived in that client's email folder.
Most case management programs will allow you to save emails directly to a client’s file. Or create pdfs and save emails to electronic or paper files. Then delete them from your inbox.